Hi Everybody,

When I think of all the mistaken identities I had in my first year of birding, it's a wonder that I haven't quit. Fortunately, the thrill and satisfaction of seeing a new bird more than compensated for the humility of misidentifying more than a few species. I don't know how many times I thought I saw a Semipalmated Sandpiper when it turned out to be a short-billed Western or, as in the last incident, it turned out to be a Sanderling. Having never seen a Sanderling before, I just assumed a light-colored peep with a short bill had to be a Semi-palmated. I'll spare you any more sordid details and stick with the positive.

In retrospect, my first year of birding was fantastic. I haven't counted, but I saw over a 100 new species and managed some sort of photo for most of them. As well, I've met a few kind people out there in birdland who are only too happy to help with identification or share information like birding locations. My only regret was that there were so many wasted pictures - out of focus, not enough light, too far away, and camera shake. Out of the 1000 or so pictures I took, I have about 20 reasonable ones for my collection. Part of the problem was inadequate equipment. Shooting with a zoom lens and doubler at 1000mm wouldn't be recommended for bird photography by anyone, but I had to start somewhere. In fact, it'll still be awhile before I can afford that $9,000 500mm f4 prime lens. A good lens that lets in a lot of light is critical. However, no use dwelling on what I don't have, I'll just have to try harder and continue to dance with the partner I have.

2004 has started slowly - not enough sunshine, too cold, and a few family and personal commitments as well. I made a couple of forays ( 4km for me) down to Schooner Cove to get some better loon pictures but on the one day that there were loons all over - the Yellow-billed with it's Common buddy and about six or seven Pacifics - they were so close I could almost touch them, but it was in the middle of a blinding snow squall. (Were they looking for a safe harbour in the storm?) I clicked a few half-hearted times knowing there wouldn't be any results. On the other hand, Jan. 4th was beautiful - cold but sunny. In between football games I checked out the Cove but only saw a couple of Common Mergansers and the Common Loon. Apparently Ralph found the Yellow-billed Loon with his digital SLR earlier so he should be posting some great pictures on the eGroup tonight. (Ralph's our best bird photographer - he has the great Canon 10D [digital SLR] with a 400mm telephoto lens but also the eye, patience, and skill to get the great pictures.)

Jan. 5 - Sunny but 10 below - the pipes in my guest cabin froze yesterday so there'll be no guests this year. I filled the bird feeders at 9:00 AM - it was fun to see the Fox Sparrows joining the Juncos, Towhees, Nuthatches, and Chickadees - of course, the Chickadees have me trained to carry peanuts in my pocket so they land on my hand until I give them their treat. I didn't bother with water today as they never touched it yesterday. I watched the Chickadees eat snow - they seem to know that snow is just another form of H2O. Anyway, it was at least 3 weeks since I had a decent birding day so I was itching to go. Schooner Cove was in perfect sunlight but only the Common Mergansers, Common Loon, and Great Blue Heron were around. I headed for French Creek - since the Rock Wren last year, it has been one of my favorite spots. It is wide open so it has good sunlight and I can get fairly close to the birds. Besides the Rock Wren, I also saw my first Greater Yellowlegs and Eurasian Widgeon there. It offers a variety of settings - the creek, the creek mouth, the breakwater, the pilings, the beach, and the open water. As I approached the creek, I saw about 100 Canada Geese looking like brown medicine balls on the water as they stood with their heads tucked in. They all looked up as I approached. I scanned to see if there were any abnormalities like the white forehead, but didn't see anything unusual. A small puff of white in the middle of a bunch of Mallards caught my eye. The binoculars showed it was a killdeer trying to use the Mallards as a down vest. I moved in for a picture, but they all moved out so that was that. 5 Ring-necked Ducks just down the creek eyed me nervously as I walked towards them - they were also camera shy and paddled away. A pair Common Golden-eye further down didn't hesitate to fly as I just looked at them. The gulls on the far bank didn't interest me. The Belted Kingfisher on the hydro line was close, but hydro lines don't make for a good setting so I thanked him and moved on. Despite my 6 years in Inuvik, the 20 below wind-chill was getting to me so I headed back to the car. I was just about leave when intuition said, "Check the beach." I grabbed my touque, gloves, and camera and headed off. As I approached the fence before the beach, I scanned with the binoculars - a few Bufflehead, Widgeons, gulls, and a flock of Dunlin - but there was an almost white Dunlin - a new bird!

Somehow I didn't notice the cold as I carefully stalked down to the beach. I took a couple of distant shots just so I would have something in case they all flew. As I approached, they all flew, but fortunately just down to the end of the short beach. I slowly edged towards the flock until I could see that there were about 10 slightly smaller and whiter birds mixed in with the 50 or so Dunlin. My mind was strictly on "getting the picture" - click, click ... but the hazy light was poor near the trees. I had to hope that they would just fly up the beach if I spooked them. I got within 30 feet of the feeding birds before they flew. I noted that they had black legs and short black bills. Heading back up the beach, the tide was coming in - I was reminded of those summer days at Admiral's Lagoon when the Peeps and Turnstones would be in a feeding frenzy on the incoming tide. A solitary white bird caught my eye as it busily pecked for food beside a Mew Gull. The mew gull was also busy feeding so they didn't notice me or didn't care as I knelt down on the wet sand to focus. Click, click, click - I breathed lightly to avoid freezing up my glasses and the viewfinder. It didn't take long to blow a roll film and then some. It would be worth it if there was one good picture. I put in a new roll and clicked a few more for good measure. I didn't realize how numb my fingers were until I got up to leave. It was only 1:30 PM. I took my film to Walmart in Nanaimo and walked to Starbucks at Chapters for a hot coffee. Somehow the coffee seemed to be the best I'd ever tasted as I nursed the hot mug for about 30 minutes. Next, I strolled over to the Nature rack and grabbed a copy of the National Geographic Bird Guide. Snowy Plover? Some kind of Sandpiper? Then it came to me - "Sanderling". I remembered the same ceaseless non-stop movement and feeding of 2 Sanderlings in the tide line at Admiral's in Sept. Today's birds were fatter and more plain (less checkered) than the ones I saw in the summer but they had to be the same species. Sure enough, there was a close match to the adult-nonbreeding in the book. My mystery birds were old birds with a new look - I'm learning. I picked up my picture CD's and headed home. No new bird but it was another satisfying bird day!

Photo 1: Dunlin Jan. 5/04 French Creek

Photo 2: Common & Yellow-billed Loons in the snowstorm Jan. 2/04 Schooner Cove

Photo 3: Chubby Sanderling Jan. 5/04 French Creek

Photo 4: Dinner partners Jan. 5/04 French Creek
Photo 5: Sanderling in Sept. Sept/4/03 Admiral's Lagoon

Jan. 15/04 Parksville Bay & Columbia Beach

The SentinelsColumbia Beach SiestaStrange Bedfellows
The Breakfast ChorusSleeping BeautyBarrows of Fun
The Lone RangerEagle Eye View2 for 1 Gull


                    photo: Long-tailed Ducks at Deep Bay

Since my last posting, it rained a few days followed by a few calm and balmy but foggy days. Frustrating weather for taking pictures, but I reminded myself that it was still January and the middle of winter. However, with reports of Barn Swallows in the area during the week, spring might not be too far off, and if one were desperate, there were always gulls. (Actually, dull weather is good for shooting gulls because of less light reflection.) On Wed. (Jan. 21) I succumbed to cabin fever and my itchy shutter finger and snuck off in the fog to Parksville and Qualicum in search of a Glaucous or even Herring Gull. Of course, not knowing my gulls, I probably wouldn't have recognized any of the two if I tripped over them. But that didn't stop me. I decided to settle for a Western, Glaucous-winged, and Thayer's (adults only - forget the confusion of younger ones). I'm posting them below, and I'm at your mercy to see if I've got them right.

Have you ever had a day where things seem to go your way? Well, today (Jan. 24) was our first sunny day in over a week, but I was booked to play golf. Not wanting to disappoint my partners, I begrudgingly headed to Fairwinds at 8:30 AM for our 8:54 tee time. By 8:50, none of my buddies were there. What's the odds of 3 serious golfers not showing up? At 9:00 AM I called my wife and said, "Let's go to Deep Bay to visit the Longtails!" By 10:00 AM I was sitting peacefully in the sun at the end of the tranquil Deep Bay Spit taking pictures of Long-tailed Ducks. Conditions were perfect - warm winter sunshine and glassy calm waters (unlike the bitter, cold wind that was blowing south of us - just ask the Mew Gulls at Columbia beach).

Western GullGlaucous-winged GullThayer's Gull
Chrome IslandLong-tailed DuckSome of the family
Papa Long-tailedSurf ScoterMussels for Lunch?
Common GoldeneyeColumbia BeachMew Gulls

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